Team USA pulled off a clean sweep, as it went nine-for-nine in gold medals won on Nov. 3 at the 2019 Pan American U15 Games in men’s freestyle competition in Panama City, Panama.
The United States also won nine championships on Friday in the Greco-Roman tournament. The US took the team title with 225 points. Mexico was second with 135 points and Columbia came in third with 122 in freestyle action.
Wrestlers from all over the United States competed, and although no Pennsylvania grapplers saw action, Connellsville native Kyle Martin had the privilege of coaching the freestyle team. He was also an assistant for the Greco-Roman team.
“This was definitely a first for me as a coach to have every single guy win a title,” said Martin, who is a 2004 graduate of Connellsville Area High School. “It was really cool and we also had every one of our guys score first in all but two matches, and even though they gave up early points, it was off them being the aggressor, which I can’t fault them at all for that. They also came back to win those matches.
“It almost got to the point where it was similar to a dual meet when you are trying to preserve a sweep. It added some pressure on our guys, but they acted like men for 15-year-old kids. They had to overcome some adversity before the competition. We had to change hotel rooms and there was a time where we didn’t have anywhere to practice, so we went outside and worked out in the hot Panamanian sun. It just showed the maturity of these kids. They never complained no matter how much adversity came their way.”
The United States’ greatest triumph came at 57 kilograms when Hanover Park, Illinois’ Jayden Colon earned an 8-0 decision over Mexico’s Axel Medrano Garcia in the finals. Medrano Garcia entered the tournament as a world medalist. Colon was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler.
Fellow Illinoisan Braden Stauffenberg also defeated a world medalist with a victory over Mexico’s Roberto Martinez Armenta in the semifinals before downing Columbia’s Luis Izquerdo Borrero in the finals at 62 kilograms.
“For a lot of these kids, it was their first international trip, but they were up to the challenge,” Martin said. “We had guys beat world medalists, and these kids just wanted to improve. You have to throw your ego out of it when you coach these guys and do your best to get them to reach their maximum potential. It was pretty neat seeing guys from all over the United States in a week’s time become a team, and then a family.”
In addition to Colon and Stauffenberg, the other champions for the United States were: San Diego, California’s Elias Navida (38 kg), Chandler, Arizona’s Paul Kelly (44 kg), Wrightstown, Wisconsin’s Greyson Clark (48 kg), Sullivan, Indiana’s Lane Gilbert (52 kg), Bremerton, Washington’s Thor Michaelson (68 kg), North St. Paul, Minnesota’s Antony Tuttle (75 kg) and Buffalo Grove, Illinois’ Nathan Wemstrom (85 kg).
“Being able to drape the American flag around our guys’ shoulders after they won for a victory lap was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done as a coach,” Martin said. “To see the look on their faces after they won was really cool. The whole experience for the athlete was one of the coolest things.
“These could be our guys for the Olympics in 2024 and 2028. They also showed the desire to be here and bought into everything we were teaching them at the camp before the tournament. We want to see them make Olympic and world teams, but we also want them to be Olympians in life, not just in wrestling.”
Martin is always looking to improve as a coach, and he would like to see some grapplers from the Keystone State in future international tournaments.
“The next step is to fill the world team with Pennsylvania guys,” Martin said. “We had some alternates here, but we have to get better, and I know that starts with me as a coach.”
Martin recently finished his gold certification for coaching with USA Wrestling, and he is one of two from Pennsylvania to accomplish the feat.
“This is a phenomenal dream that I’m living,” Martin said.